As with any other benefit from Social Security, you have to pay into the program to qualify. But there are extra rules when it comes to disability benefits.
You have to have paid into Social Security for a total of forty quarters. And here’s the extra hurdle. You have to have a work record of twenty quarters for at least five years going back ten years prior to the date of your disability. If you retire early, say at age fifty, and you are disabled at sixty-one, you won’t qualify for disability benefits because you wouldn’t have worked at least twenty quarters in the last ten years prior to your disability. It won’t matter if you’ve paid into the program for forty quarters during your working life. Of course, if you did pay into Social Security for forty quarters prior to retiring at age fifty, you would qualify for retirement benefits. You could take reduced retirement benefits at age sixty-two.
The exception with regard to the twenty quarters paid in within the last ten years prior to your disability is if you are disabled before you turn thirty-one. In that case, you have to have half the quarters prior to your disability. For example, if you were disabled at twenty-nine, you’d need to have at least eighteen quarters between the age of twenty-one and twenty-nine, or two credits per year for nine years. If you were disabled around the time of your twenty-first birthday, you would need at least six quarters to qualify.
If you worked a federal, state, local government, or other job (like a teacher in some districts) and you did not pay into Social Security, you would not be eligible for disability benefits. You would have to meet the eligibility requirements outlined above in order to qualify for disability benefits.